Friday, December 26, 2008


Peter Schmuck took the gloves off today:
Frankly, and I know I'm going to offend some of you, if you're calling him
McFail after 18 months, then you deserve an organization that starts a new
five-year plan every two years under pressure from its fans.

Personally, I couldn't agree more. Orioles fans have complained for a decade that the team didn't use The Oriole Way to rebuild, and now that, belatedly, the organization has committed to rebuilding, those same fans are impatient and complain every time a major free agent signs somewhere else. This organization IS on the right track, DOES have lots of talent that will be ready in a short while and WILL contend again in the near future. If you can't see that, then you're blind.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yankee Sized Payroll

Holy. Crap.
The total base salaries of A-Rod ($32 million), Jeter ($20 million), Teixeira ($20 million), and Sabathia ($14 million) for 2009 will be $86 million, or more than the Opening Day payrolls of more than half the league last year (Brewers, Indians, Giants, Reds, Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Royals, Twins, Nationals, Pirates, Athletics, Rays, and Marlins).

Pinstripes are Slimming

Maybe Mark Teixeira just likes the way he looks in pinstripes and navy blue better than he does in orange and black.

Peter Schmuck sums up the reaction from much of the fanbase, and puts it all in perspective:
That level of frustration is understandable at a time like this, but if
you're a baseball fan, you're not going to stop being a baseball fan because
Boras acted like Boras, the Yankees acted like the Yankees and the Orioles acted
like the Orioles. I expect you to take a couple of days to cool off and then be
back here first thing Friday morning.

I understand and share the frustration with rebuilding. Since previous administrations were so inept, Orioles fans have been given a three-year time horizon for more than a decade and have nothing (well, except a few Jay Gibbons, Rodrigo Lopez, Daniel Cabrera and Luis Matos memories) to show for it. This time it really is different, though. Joe Sheehan wrote last week, and I agree, that Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters are the types of players that form the core of a championship club. He also wrote that the Orioles should sign Teixeira, but the point remains: the Orioles actually have talent. Couple those guys with all the young pitching on the way (with the obvious caveat about the difficulty of developing young pitching), and this legitimately is a team that can compete in the very near future. Not in 2009, but maybe we can dream a little in 2010.

Clearly, as a baseball player, Teixeira would have been a perfect fit for the Orioles, a switch-hitting slugger to hit in the middle of the lineup and play excellent defense at first base. Economically, it's not quite as clear he was a great fit. In 2008, the Orioles had a team payroll of $67 million. In 2007, that number was $93 million. Assuming that the Orioles were willing to go back to or a little above 2007 levels, commiting roughly 23% of your payroll to one player is typically not a formula for success. Couple that with the uncertainty surrounding today's economy, and pulling out of the bidding may turn out to be a very wise decision.

So how do the Orioles move forward? Very clearly, they need to develop some of that young pitching in the minor leagues. Finding five (heck, two) competent starters is priority 1A, B, C and D. After that, they need long-term solutions for the middle infield, first base, third base (OK, the whole infield) and left field. Is Brian Roberts here for the long-term? Can the club live with a great-field, no-hit shortstop? What can Nolan Reimold provide in left? Can Aubrey Huff return some value? Where is the middle-of-the-lineup power production going to come from? Not all of those questions can be answered in 2009, but not all of them need to be; complementary players can fill many of those roles, and MacPhail has proven adept at returning value in trades. It may not feel this way while watching Sportscenter this morning, but the future is bright.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Has Scott Boras Lost His Touch?

First the A-Rod saga. Then the Pedro Alvarez fiasco. And now the bidders for Mark Teixeira are dropping like flies. If you have any insight to offer on where Teixeira is going and for how much money, feel free to offer it. Because at this point we don't even know which teams are interested.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great Field, No Hit

Baltimore fans have long had a soft spot in their hearts for great field, no hit shortstops, and with good reason. Luis Aparacio, Mark Belanger (who earned MVP votes in a season in which he batted .225), and Mike Bordick all played a slick shortstop but didn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of pitchers. Some guy named Cal Ripken brought a new dynamic to the position, but Baltimore fans, perhaps more than any other franchise, knew that a championship caliber team needed a championship caliber gloveman up the middle. Now, modern sabermetrics lends new credence to the anecdotal evidence accumulated at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. And, if you're interested, Rob Neyer has a great discussion with FanGraphs' Eric Seidman (who liked the Izturis signing) where Seidman does an excellent job explaining how the numbers available today can adjust for the value a great shortstop provides.

Mark Teixeira Capable of Saving World

or so one might think from the intrigue generated by his contract negotiations this offseason. Peter Schmuck gives the Baltimore-centric rundown at The Sun:
Here it is in a nutshell: If the Orioles defy the odds and win the Teixeira derby, then maybe the team really has changed direction under MacPhail and maybe it's time to start coming back to the ballpark after a decade of declining attendance. If the Orioles get outbid - no matter how big the winning bid turns out to be - then it's the same old, same old. The Orioles weren't really serious and stayed on the fringe of the bidding only for public relations purposes.

As a fan, I'd like nothing more than to see Teixeira manning first base and taking aim at the Warehouse during batting practice. As an objective observer, I have very real concerns over the length and dollar value of the contract it will take to lure Teixeira back to the Inner Harbor. As a fan and an objective observer, I think it's best not to get tooooo worked up over these negotiations. A free agent situation with Scott Boras involved tends to take on a life of its own, and that doesn't typically work to the benefit of the club. I believe that Andy MacPhail has played these negotiations relatively well so far, declining to negotiate through the media and refusing to bid against himself. He knows that the contract offer the O's have on the table is competitive and I suspect that he believes Teixeira won't be signing anywhere without giving MacPhail one last phone call. All evidence from the past 18 months points to MacPhail being an extremely competent general manager, and the fan and objective observer inside of me are satisfied with the direction he's taking the organization, regardless of the outcome of the Teixeira bidding.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Final Daniel Cabrera Thought

Until he wins the Cy Young for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009.

Joe Sheehan comes down a bit harder on Andy MacPhail than I did:
Cabrera has never come close to meeting the expectations set by his talent and his performance in 2005 and 2006, when he was a strikeout/ground-ball machine who needed just an improvement in his command to become a number two starter. That improvement never came, and in chasing it, Cabrera lost what he did well and watched his strikeout rate fall to half of its peak last season, his second straight with an ERA above 5.00. The innings he threw and his service time would have led to a mid-seven-figures arbitration award, regardless.

I can almost understand the decision... almost. Cabrera has shown few signs of improvement, and will be kind of expensive for a fourth or fifth starter. At the same time, the Orioles aren't exactly deep in the rotation. They have prospects coming, and coming quickly, but the major league rotation could use some bodies. To take a pitcher who at the least has established that he can make 30 starts and who retains his upside—if little chance of getting there—and turn him loose just for want of some cash seems a little shortsighted. If this were a different team, one needing to win a lot of games in '09, or one with seven or eight starters, I would feel otherwise. Cutting loose Cabrera denies the Orioles a player they could use, and cuts them off from the chance that he could find his way back. That the Orioles, who know him as well as any team, would let him go is valuable information, but I can't help but think that Cabrera is going to have 425 soft-focus, "they didn't believe in me" features written about him next summer as he starts the year 6-1, 2.66 for a new team.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Daniel Cabrera Non-tendered

It's official: Daniel Cabrera has pitched his last game for the Orioles. Suffice to say, Cabrera has been one of the most promising and most frustrating pitchers in all of baseball over his five year career. When he was able to throw strikes, he was dominant; his complete game one-hitter against the Yankees in his final start of 2006 was but one example of what he was capable of doing. Unfortunately, those examples were few and far between. He's never finished below third in the league in walks allowed despite only once cracking 200 IP; he finished first in both 2006 and 2007, but "improved" to second last year, largely because injuries cost him about five starts in the final two months of the season. For his career, he averaged nearly 7 K/9, but also an amazing 5.11 BB/9.

I have mixed feelings about non-tendering Cabrera. As we all know, the Orioles are missing a few links in their rotation; Jeremy Guthrie is the only player on the 40-man roster you could even pencil into the rotation, much less count on to make 30 starts. Cabrera would have been a relatively low-cost option to contibrute 180 innings. Granted, they wouldn't have been 180 particularly good innings, but at this point the Orioles don't have enough pitchers to make it through April, much less September. At somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million, a case can certainly be made that those innings, and the potential that Cabrera finally fulfills his promise, are worth the cost.

Still, as a fan, I will not miss watching Cabrera pitch every five days. The walks, the wild pitches, the atrocious defense. No more, thanks. None of that is solid, rational analysis, but it sure makes me feel better to know that whichever crappy pitchers the Orioles run out there next year, it won't be the same crappy pitchers as the last five seasons. He's always seemed like a hard worker and quality person, so I wish Daniel Cabrera well, but I do hope he doesn't win a Cy Young award with his next organization.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mark Teixeira Update

It looks like the Angels are the current high bidders in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. So how does the O's deal stack up in comparison? Reports put Baltimore's bid at seven years and between $140 and $150 million, Boston's at 7/$150 and Washington's at 8/$160. Let's assume that the Orioles are at the high end of their range and have thus matched the Red Sox offer, meaning the Angels have a $10 million advantage in the headline number. But how real is that advantage?

First, let's discount the future cash flows back to present value. Using an 8% rate, which would seem to be reasonable given salary inflation in MLB, and spreading out the entire value of the contract evenly over the seven years, the Orioles/Red Sox deal is worth about $111.6 million and the Angels contract about $119 million, a difference of $7.4 million or $1.05 million per season. But living in Maryland does not equal living in Southern California, at least when it comes to taxes. In Maryland, the top marginal tax rate for 2008 is 5.5%, and in California that rate is 10.3%; in Massachusetts the number is 5.3%, so we'll consider the Red Sox offer equivalent to the Orioles offer. Accounting for the difference, the Angels deal is worth just $1.2 million--total, over seven seasons--more than the Orioles deal. Teixeria may decide to play for the Angels or the Red Sox, but it is certainly not because those teams have offered significantly more money. Perhaps not surprisingly, each team has an offer that is virtually identical, and Teixeira will have to weigh the "other" factors when making his decision.

One confounding factor could be the apparent willingness of the Nationals to guarantee an eighth season. At $160 million and a tax rate equivalent to Maryland, the Nats deal is worth about $2.2 million more than the Orioles, which is the equivalent of a Year 8 salary of about $4.2 million. Teixeira, even in decline, would likely be worth more than that sum. The Nats will have to either up the dollar value or, ironically, shorten the length of their bid to present the most attractive financial package to Teixeira.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cesar Izturis

FanGraphs is much smarter than me, and they have the hard numbers that show the Izturis deal is a good one for the Orioles. Well-done by MacPhail and Co.

Teixeira Update

The Baltimore Sun has an update on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, and it looks like the Orioles are in the final four. While the exact details of all the offers are not known, the O's certainly have a competitive bid on the table: seven years and between $140 and $150 million. The Nationals, and perhaps the Angels and Red Sox, may have guaranteed an eighth year and up to $160 million. All the Orioles can do is make a competitive offer and hope that Teixeira chooses playing close to home instead of in the sunny weather of Southern California or in the virtually guaranteed pennant races of Boston.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So Far So Good

Though November was rather quiet, the hot stove had a few more logs thrown on the fire in December. The Orioles have traded Ramon Hernandez for Ryan Freel and are nearing a deal for Cesar Izturis. Neither deal is exactly headline worthy in an offseason where C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Kerry Wood, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell and Ben Sheets are all on the free agent market and Jake Peavy is the most sought after player widely known to be available via trade, but each fits nicely into MacPhail's strategy to remake the Orioles into a contender.

Hernandez was a spare part for this organization. Man-crush Matt Wieters has nothing left to prove in the minors and deserves to be the full-time catcher next season, and moving Hernandez, even for a relatively paltry return like Freel and two marginal prospects, was a smart move. Freel is a valuable utility player; if healthy, he can play all the outfield spots, third base and second base, provide solid on-base skills, and potentially steal a few bases. And he provides a right-handed bat to pair with Luke Scott, and potentially Nolan Reimold, for platoon situations.

Izturis also fits nicely, even though he is clearly not a long-term solution for the Orioles shortstop woes. As a low-cost and short-term option, Izturis can provide excellent defense while offering replacement level offense. None of the other options on the market this winter (Edgar Renteria, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera) are likely to come with such a low price tag or provide significantly more value. After employing a revolving door at the position last season, Izturis will at least provide support for a work-in-progress pitching staff. Teams seem to have figured out in recent years is that a run saved is worth just as much--and perhaps even more--than a run scored and that turning batted balls into outs is a great way to save runs. Taking the great defense until a long-term solution for the position can be found is a smart move by MacPhail.

Offensively, this would seem to leave two holes for the Orioles to fill: 1) first base and 2) back-up catcher. A veteran back-up who can catch 30 or 40 games is a necessity; Wieters will be the full-time starter, but it certainly won't hurt to have him take a day off or spend time at DH once or twice a week. Mark Teixeira is obviously the wild card. While recent rumors have him headed to Boston, the Orioles haven't given up hope. He's an expensive player for a team with the Orioles budget, but he's a great hitter. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it is wise to spend the sums it will take to lure Teixeira, but his presence in the lineup would absolutely be welcomed. If the Orioles fail to sign him, they would still need another bat to play first base, since Aubrey Huff is limited to DH. One potential internal solution would be to play Nolan Reimold or Luke Scott at first base.

Potential lineup, without Teixiera:

2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora
RF Nick Markakis
DH Aubrey Huff
LF Luke Scott
CA Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
1B Nolan Reimold
SS Cesar Izturis

Potential lineup, with Teixeira:

2B Brian Roberts
RF Nick Markakis
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Aubrey Huff
LF Luke Scott
CA Matt Wieters
3B Melvin Mora
CF Adam Jones
SS Cesar Izturis

That's not a bad looking line-up right there. Personally, I have higher hopes for Matt Wieters and would like to see him bat fifth, in part to break up the lefthanded hitting Huff and Scott.

Obviously, there is still much work to be done on the pitching staff. Only Jeremy Guthrie is assured of a spot in the rotation, and it is unlikely the Orioles will be able to sign any of the headline starters on the market. With help on the way in the minors, targeting draft-pick-cost free veterans is the right move for a team that is largely in search of placeholder innings. Hopefully, young pitchers like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Radhames Liz, David Hernandez and others will develop into viable options for 2010.

It's shaping up to be a productive offseason for the Orioles even if they don't make a big splash. Add Mark Teixeira would tremendously shore up the offense but still leave the team in search of a lot of pitching. The team is definitely on the right track, but 2009 is not likely to be a year of much progress in the standings. The division is just too good and the promising pitching at least a year away.